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Ethical Trading

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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What contacts her Department has with organisations advocating fair trade and ethical investment; and what consideration she is giving to further development in these areas. [14110]

As I said, I am very keen to encourage and reinforce the fair trade and ethical investment consumer movements in every possible way. My Department has numerous and growing contacts with groups interested in fair trade and ethical investment in developing countries. I especially welcome our increasing contacts with groups within the British business community, which is increasingly interested in the issue. The potential of those movements to improve labour standards and environmental protection for large numbers of people in developing countries is considerable. We are asking British companies and non-governmental organisations to work together towards those goals.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate her on what last week's White Paper had to say about fair trade. May I suggest, however, that the really difficult part will be in achieving any world consensus or action on practical ways in which fair trade and ethical investment can operate? Nevertheless, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and you, Madam Speaker, on launching a practical example in the House today showing that it is possible to drink fair trade coffee. Not only does such coffee offer production workers good wages and conditions—it tastes very good, too.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I agree with her that it is very good that the House will now consume ethical coffee which has been produced without abusing labour or pesticides—[Interruption.] Conservative Members sneer at ethics, but the British people are interested in them. Like you, Madam Speaker, I had a cup of that coffee this morning and it was extremely good. As I have said, ethical movements and consumers' interest in such movements are potentially very influential in the world.

Currently, my Department is assisting all British supermarkets and non-governmental organisations in talks on a code for ethical sourcing so that the British people will know that everything on the shelves in those supermarkets is being produced with decent labour standards and non-abuse of the environment. The value of the produce ordered in developing countries by the top 10 British supermarkets is greater than the total income of the world's 35 poorest countries, so the potential power of this is enormous.

May I refer the right hon. Lady to section 3 of her White Paper, which deals specifically with fair trade and ethical investment? That section advocates reform of the European Union's common agricultural policy, and the first paragraph of the section stresses the importance of consistency. In the reform that she will advocate, will she advocate elimination of European Union subsidies to tobacco producers in the southern European states—or is the promotion of tobacco production in the developed world a special case?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue—which includes the issue of tobacco production. However, I prefer to deal with the matter straight on, rather than to play silly political games.

The issue of trade liberalisation extends to agriculture. Although industrialised countries frequently lecture developing countries about the need to open their markets to trade, we have highly protected and highly subsidised agriculture—dumping lots of agricultural produce on world markets and undermining the capacity of those countries to develop. I am against such subsidies in principle, including for tobacco. [Interruption.] I take no lessons from Opposition Members.

Due to the proposal to widen the European Union, there is a very good opportunity for—and a driving commitment to—common agricultural policy reform. It is the duty of my Department to ensure that the interests of the developing world, and its chance to work its way out of poverty, are taken into account in the review of the CAP.